BATD ON Nov 20, 2013 AT 3:10 pm

by Liz Turner

Golf GTI

Golf GTI

It’s rare for a car to be just right, a car most people would be perfectly happy to own and drive every day. VW’s marketing elves hit the nail square on the head with its ‘like a Golf’ ad campaign. I know plenty of Golf owners, including arty types who like the measured lines, some who have ancient examples still running like Duracell bunnies and a photographer who always has to have the latest GTI because of the sheer thrill of driving.

VW launched the MkVII Golf this year, 38 years after the launch of the original.  I was lucky enough to spend a day driving the latest GTIs, because these days it’s not one car, but a range with three or five doors, petrol or diesel engines and manual or automatic gearboxes.

All grown up

The Golf has grown in size over the decades, so there are no two cars below it in the range, the Polo and the perky Up! City car. The new Golf is bigger again to give the space we consumers always seem to crave. Its safer, but it’s also lighter and more efficient, with features such as stop/start at traffic lights to save fuel. It also offers the latest tech to allow you to enjoy the music you want through DAB Radio, or plugging an iPod or other media or to keep in touch hands-free by plugging in a Bluetooth-compatible phone.

I started at the top with the outrageous GTI Performance 2.0 TSI 230PS at £27,480, including £980 for the Performance Pack , That adds an extra 10PS of oomph, upgraded brakes and a limited-slip diff (which aids fast handling).

I loved the retro tartan seats and golfball gearlever grip, and the smart cabin with just the right amount of bling. It howled down the road like a scalded cat, but purred round nearby Tetbury town centre like a kitten. The steering lets you know just what’s going on and the gearchange is very slick and tactile.

Next I tried a version with the sophisticated DSG auto gearbox. The change was seamless, but I didn’t enjoy the drive so much. There’s something about changing gear in the traditional way that connects you more closely with the car. The DSG allows you to change manually by nudging the lever up and down, or some models have paddles on the steering wheel, but it’s not the same.  (The Panoramic sunroof (£910) on this test car was very nice, if pricey.)

The Diesel GTI

A decade ago, the idea of a diesel GTI would have had the lads laughing into their pints, but diesel smokers have developed rapidly into smooth, clean and powerful engines. The 2.0-litre GTD TDI 184PS with six-speed manual made me think of Usain Bolt or a lightweight boxer – it’s speedy and muscular, but not overly so – you don’t feel as though you’ve been kicked in the back as it accelerates rapidly in response to your right foot.

You don’t have to rev a diesel as hard as a petrol car, the power is on tap when you want it. The GTD’s main advantage, though, is its combine fuel consumption of 67.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 109g/km.

This one had a GTD styling pack, with uniquely shaped bumpers, a mean-looking black honeycomb front grille and rear roof spoiler. Along with the tinted rear glass , rear LED lights and smoked rear lamps, it looked a bit of a beast. Maybe you’d need to watch where you parked it.

Finally I drove the GTI 2.0-litre 220 PS 6speed manual priced at £25,845. This, for me, was the just-right model. Without the Performance Pack, it’s fast but not furious, engaging and agile, but not a boy-racer.

My photographer friend would go for the Performance Pack, of course, but that’s OK, there’s a GTI for everyone.

Cars driven:

Golf GTI Performance 2.0-litre TSI 230PS 5dr 6spd Manual (petrol)

Price £27,480 (inc £980 Performance Pack)

Engine 2.0-litre, 230 PS at 4,500rpm

Top speed 155mph

0-62mph 6.4 seconds

Economy 47.1mpg (combined)

CO2 139g/km

Insurance group 29 E

Golf GTI 2.0-litre TDI 184 PS 5dr 6sp manual (diesel)

Price £25,940

Engine 2.0-litre 184 PS at 3,500-4,000rpm

Top speed 143mph

0-62mph 7.5 seconds

Economy 67.3mpg (combined)

CO2 109g/km

Insurance group 26 E

Golf GTI 2.0-litre 220 PS 3dr 6sp manual (petrol)

Price £25,845

Engine 2.0-litre 220 PS 4,500rpm

Top speed 152mph

0-62mph 6.5 seconds

Economy 47.1mpg (combined)

CO2 139g/km

Insurance group 29 E

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